AMERICAN heavyweights are coming back into fashion, it seems.
On Saturday in Las Vegas the big new hope Deontay Wilder comprehensively outpointed Bermane Stiverne to win the WBC belt, and it’s also been confirmed that Bryant Jennings will challenge the real world champion, Wladimir Klitschko, in April at the iconic Madison Square Garden.
Jennings is from the well-known fight city of Philadelphia while Wilder is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama; together they have the potential to interest the great American public, who when I was in Las Vegas last weekend seemed more interested in the NFL Conference championship games taking place next day than the world heavyweight fight happening in their city.
American heavyweights are important for boxing, because it ensures the continued interest of subscription television broadcasters like HBO and Showtime, whose money essentially keeps the sport alive. A strong American representation in the most glamorous division is to be welcomed – provided they keep winning.
And that’s is where it gets trickier predicting the future. Jennings will start a massive underdog against Klitschko, but if he performs well – goes the distance, or gives Wlad a few problems – then he will remain an attraction. But if Bryant gets wiped out the way Kubrat Pulev did against Klitschko late last year, he could well be finished as a contender.
Wilder has only just become a champion and while he has declared he is ready to challenge Wlad, the smart money is against it happening any time soon. For a start, Deontay is advised by Al Haymon, who has a record of making his clients the most money for the easiest fight – a tactic that is hardly likely to change now he has a heavyweight champion, whose earnings can dwarf those of boxers in lower weight divisions.
Secondly, Wilder’s display against Stiverne shows that he is still developing as a fighter. He has skills to go with his power, and proved against Bermane that he also possesses stamina and durability. But let’s not kid ourselves that the Haitian-born Canadian was anything like the test Wlad would be.
Stiverne got his belt (a vacant one) only when Wlad’s elder brother Vitali retired to go into Ukrainian politics. He’s one of the poorest ever to hold a world heavyweight title, something Wilder’s handlers would do well to recognise as they plot his path. A couple of well-paid defences to boost his profile would seem the logical plan for Deontay over the coming 12 months, and by the time a Klitschko unification happens, Wlad might just be on the slide.
And if Wilder won that one, American heavyweights really would be on top of the world again, for the first time since Evander Holyfield in the late 1990s.